Awami League President Sheikh Hasina has led her party to a third consecutive win in parliamentary polls, securing two-thirds majority in yesterday’s election held in an atmosphere dominated by the ruling party men.
Hasina is set to become the prime minister for the third straight time — an unprecedented feat in the country’s history.
Under her leadership, the AL won more than two-thirds majority in the 2008 national polls, handing a humiliating defeat to its archrival BNP. And Hasina became the PM for a second term.
She was sworn in as the prime minister for the first time in 1996, steering her party to power after a long gap of 21 years.
The opposition combine was agitating for restoration of the polls-time caretaker government system scrapped during the AL government’s tenure in 2011.
This time the BNP, with its Chairperson Khaleda Zia in prison, joined the polls under the Hasina-led government though its demands for a non-partisan administration and dissolution of the current parliament before the polls were not met.
The results show the BNP-led Jatiya Oikyafront and 20-party alliance fared poorly, prompting a call for a fresh election.
The Jatiya Party, which performed better than the BNP, is set to emerge as the main opposition in the new parliament.
The JP is also the main opposition in the current parliament. It joined the AL-led grand alliance last month to contest this election.
Yesterday’s voting was unprecedented.
The atmosphere was peaceful. Festoons fluttered everywhere, even obscuring the sky. People walked to the polling stations from early morning.
Polling agents and party men in their hundreds roamed the alleys and sub-alleys. Party men with ID cards dangling from their neck sat lazily and gossiped by the voting centres. Security forces patrolled, but that was not necessary as peace prevailed.
Everything was fine except that it was a one-sided story all over. The festoons were of the ruling AL. The hundreds of polling agents and party men who thronged the voting centres all belonged to the AL or components of the alliance it leads.
Polling agents of neither the BNP nor its allies were seen in 196 polling centres visited by our correspondents in Dhaka city and 250 centres in 25 districts.
In an election, polling agents play a vital role in checking fake voting and fraud in ballot counting.
Later in the evening, the Oikyafront, an alliance of the BNP and several other opposition parties, demanded that the Election Commission immediately scrap yesterday’s “farcical polls” and hold a fresh election under a non-partisan interim government.
“We reject the so-called results. At the same time, we demand fresh polls under a non-partisan government,” Jatiya Oikyafront Convener Dr Kamal Hossain said at a press conference at his house.
The Left Democratic Alliance (LDA), comprising eight left-leaning political parties, also rejected the election results and demanded fresh polls.
However, EC Secretary Helaluddin Ahmed seemed buoyant at the end of the polling hours and claimed that the election was peaceful and hugely participatory.
The AL also expressed similar views, and said the polls proved that a “free and fair” election was possible under a partisan government.
But BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told The Daily Star, “Our polling agents were deployed in almost all polling centres but they were driven out by ruling party men and law enforcers.
“Many were arrested while many others were attacked. Our candidates repeatedly informed the election officials and law enforcement agencies about it but they did not take any action,” he alleged.
Yesterday, there was festivity also, but it was a one-sided overwhelming show of strength that had caused an enforced absence of the opposition. It seemed no party other than the ruling AL was contesting the polls. A contest with itself, probably.
The scene though was not surprising altogether.
After the fashion in which the opposition men were harassed and harried by law enforcers in the days and weeks running up to the election, it was too much to expect for any opposition men to approach the voting centres yesterday. No one wanted to be polling agents for the opposition amid the spectre of arrests.
Other strange symptoms were visible too.
The voters were greeted by smiling AL men at the centres and escorted inside where voters waited in long queues that moved at a snail’s pace. But inside the polling rooms, there was hardly anything to justify the slow process of voting.
Around 9:30am at Anandamoyi Girls High School centre in Dhaka-7, a voter was talking to one of our correspondents about the absence of the BNP candidate’s polling agents.
Within moments, a group of AL men stormed the centre, and dragged the voter away by the collar.
The presiding officer concerned was present at the spot and watched it happen. He asked our correspondent to leave.
At Satarkul Government Primary School centre in Dhaka-11, AL supporters were found compelling voters to cast ballots for “boat” in front of them around 10:30am.
Asked why no step was taken to stop it, Presiding Officer AKM Humayun Kabir said he would take immediate action.
At some centres where electronic voting was introduced for the first time, ruling party men, in many instances, stood in front of the voters, overseeing who they voted for.
Dhaka may have passed a peaceful day. But in pockets outside Dhaka, violence flared where the opposition wanted to put up resistance, leaving at least 18 people, mostly AL men, dead.
Incidents of ballot stuffing and intimidation of voters and the opposition men by ruling party supporters were reported from many districts as detailed in our other reports.
As the day wore on, more than 50 opposition candidates gave up and withdrew from the race by noon, making it all the more a one-party affair.
The Oikyafront, however, kept its promise as it did not quit the race.
In the 2014 election, the BNP-led alliance boycotted the race, saying a free and fair election was not possible under a party government.